Skip to main content

Westminster Abbey and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Abbey is not currently open for public worship, general visiting or private prayer. Meanwhile, the community of Abbey clergy are continuing to worship and pray, in-line with government guidance. They are also producing a podcast to mark key liturgical events.

Find out more

Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson, called the greatest engineer of the nineteenth century, was buried beside Thomas Telford in the centre part of the nave of Westminster Abbey. He was born on 16th October 1803 near Newcastle upon Tyne, the only son of George Stephenson, railway engineer, and his wife Frances (Henderson). He studied in Newcastle and Edinburgh and then became manager of the firm of Robert Stephenson & Co, founded for him by his father, and later spent some time in Columbia on mining projects. On 17th June 1829 he married Frances Sanderson but they had no children. His steam engine Rocket was entered for the Rainhill Trials in 1829 and won the prize. He is remembered also for his civil engineering work especially railway bridges. In 1847 he became Member of Parliament for Whitby and was later elected a Fellow of the Royal Society but he declined a knighthood. He died on 12th October 1859.

Gravestone and memorial window

A brass over his grave, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, shows him in contemporary dress with his arms folded. The inscription reads:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT STEPHENSON M.P. D.C.L. F.R.S. etc. LATE PRESIDENT OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS WHO DIED 12th OCTOBER A.D. 1859 AGED 56 YEARS.

A stained glass window was erected near the grave in 1862, designed by William Wailes (1809-81) but amended by Sir Gilbert Scott. This was moved in 1934 to the north choir aisle. The order of the medallions was changed at this time and plain glass substituted for the original coloured background. At the top are portrait heads of his father George, Thomas Telford, John Smeaton, Robert himself, James Watt and John Rennie. Depictions of Robert’s bridges are shown together with small medallions of builders through history in the main lights. Left light from top: Bonha bridge over the Nile, Tubal Cain, building the Ark, Noah, erection of the Tabernacle, Hiram, building of Solomon's temple, Bezaleel, building of the second Temple, Wykeham, and Britannia railway bridge over the Menai Straits. In the eastern (right hand light) are shown: Victoria bridge over the St Lawrence river, Cheops, building of Nineveh, Euclid, treasure cities of Egypt, Archimedes, building a Roman aqueduct, Michelangelo, the Colosseum, Sir Christopher Wren, and Newcastle on Tyne bridge.

In 1948 a representation of the Rocket locomotive was added at the base of the window and the inscription was altered to include his father’s name. The inscription reads:

Robert Stephenson MP, DCL, FRS 1803-1859 President of the Institution of Civil Engineers son of George Stephenson 1781-1848 Father of Railways.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

"Robert Stephenson, Engineer and Scientist..." Victoria Haworth, 2004

Born

16th October 1803

Died

12th October 1859

Occupation

Engineer

Location

Nave; North Choir Aisle

Memorial Type

Grave; window

Material Type

Brass

Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson memorial window

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Related commemorations

Sir James Outram

Sir James Outram

1803-1863
Soldier
James Turle

James Turle

1802-1882
Musician and Composer
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury

1801-1885
Politician and Philanthropist
Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

1806-1859
Engineer
Michael William Balfe

Michael William Balfe

1808-1870
Musician and Composer
Lord John Thynne & Family

Lord John Thynne & Family

1798-1881
Priest/Minister

It’s very hard not to be enthusiastic working at the Abbey. If this place doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what will.

Valerie - Foundation Director

Twitter logo Tweet this